After sharing my reflections of life in Nepal was published on EKantipur, a lot of readers from Nepal wrote back asking that we share a little more about African culture. This is the first of a series of articles you will read about Africa. It is about Kwanjula which is a wedding ceremony in Uganda. The article is a guest post by my friend Cathy from Uganda. Stay tuned for more articles from Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa
“Kwanjula” Marriage Ceremony
In Africa, traditional marriage is a common cultural practice among the different ethnic communities. The intending couple to be may be of the same or different tribe or language. Traditional marriages are usually seen as a way of giving honor to the parents of the Bride and at the same time, a moment to celebrate and jubilate with the new couple.
In Uganda where I come from, most of the tribal communities practice traditional marriage which is commonly known as “Kwanjula” meaning (introduction). However the Kwanjula ceremony is mostly practiced by the Buganda ethnic community. This community takes marriage very seriously. The style in this marriage is very flamboyant in dressing and in all activities. Before the “kwanjula” ceremony, the bride has to first take her husband to be to her parents for their approval in a mini ceremony known as “Okukyala”-home visitation.
“Okukyala”- Home visitation
Before “kwanjula” (Introduction), which is the main traditional ceremony, the Groom has to “okukyala” meaning visiting the bride’s parents. The visitation is an informal introduction of the husband to be to the girl’s parents. It is in the okukyala, where the man asks for the girl’s hand in marriage. A mini celebration is held at the girl’s home with both her and the Groom’s parents. If the parents approve of the marriage, then negotiation for bride price is discussed and they agree upon whatever amount and gifts the man has to bring on the big day.
However, the use of bride price is slowly fading out in most of the communities in Uganda especially in the urban centers and not too much attachment is put to it. Rather dowry is being considered as a token of appreciation for upbringing and educating the girl.
After “okukyala” preparations for the official ceremony “Kwanjula” begin. Kwanjula is the most important celebration of the Buganda marriage ceremony. Among the Buganda “kwanjula” (introduction) ceremony takes place when an intending husband to be is introduced to the future in-laws and the community at large. The ceremony is taken as the official marriage and after the suitor is accepted, he can take his bride home with him as a wife.
The preparations for “Kwanjula” are usually a tedious and tiring process financially, physically and mentality. But at the same time it is the most memorable event for the couple and community.
Like many other culture when it comes to marriage the whole family and the friends are involved. The “Kwanjula” ceremony involves many parties like the paternal “Ssenga” (Aunt) and spokesperson who have a vital role to play on the occasion. Before the grand celebration of the marriage ceremony, the “husband to be” has to visit the paternal auntie of the girl, the one she has chosen to act as Ssenga. Ssenga plays a significant role in the Buganda marriage ceremony. Her role is respected and many baganda women yearn to perform the same. Ssenga is vital in educating and teaching the bride to be her roles and responsibilities as a wife.
It is tradition that the ceremony is held at the bride’s parent’s home. A lot of activity takes place in preparation for the ceremony. Two tents are put up, one for the in-laws and the other for the family members, visitors, friends and community at large. Depending on both the girl and man’s agreement and their financial standing, usually the whole village is invited to witness and participate in the ceremony. However in most cases the girl’s parents may dictate on the number of people the groom should bring. They may say 40-50 people only or even more.
On arrival at the bride’s parent’s home, the in-laws are required to make two lines, one for men and the other for the ladies. The hosts then clip their visitor’s shirts or dresses with beautiful knots in form a flower or ribbon. This is meant to easily identify the in-laws from the rest of the visitors
Sometimes before they are ushered to their tent to sit, the host’s spokesperson may tease the visitors and ask them why they have come? And if they do not give a “good answer” or even come late for the function, they are fined. Indeed a good spokesman can make the whole ceremony exciting and memorable. It is at this point that the spokesperson takes on their roles very seriously.
Look out for part two which will highlight the role of the spokesman and explain what happens after the bride is identified.